Josh Muehlenkamp still laughs when he remembers the first time he saw Archie Young.
Muehlenkamp was a walk-on freshman guard strolling into the Patty Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1995, fresh off a stint in the United States Army and a prep basketball career in Washington.
And there was Young, a senior shooting guard for the Nanooks, tossing the ball from halfcourt high enough so that it would bounce once inside the key and draw nothing but net.
"I was just a kid," said Muehlenkamp. "I'm standing there watching him make this crazy shot from half-court, and I'm thinking: 'Oh man, I just want to work on my jumpshot."
Nine years later, Muehlenkamp and Young are two young high school coaches guiding a pair of the best Class 3A boys' basketball teams in Alaska into this week's Class 3A boys state tournament, beginning today at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.
Muehlenkamp's Metlakatla Chiefs beat Young's Mount Edgecumbe Braves in last Friday's Class 3A title game, which pit the two former teammates and longtime friends against each other on the region's biggest stage. Both teams qualified for state.
The game was almost a decade in the making for the two coaches both seeking their first Region V state title.
As a walk-on at UAF nine years ago, Muehlenkamp never competed for playing time in the backcourt against Young, who starred at Wrangell High School and helped lead the Wolves to a Region V-Class 3A title in 1991.
Although they didn't talk much on the court, their mutual major - education - put them in the same classes, and their friendship began.
"He's completely different on and off the court," said Muehlenkamp. "On the court he was such a good ballplayer and one heck of an athlete, probably one of the best shooters I've ever seen. Off the court, he was so reserved."
Young eventually graduated and moved to Sitka, while Muehlenkamp stayed on at UAF, played for the Nanooks and earned his degree in education.
They stayed in touch all the while, and then Young landed a job as the head boys' basketball coach at Mount Edgecumbe for the 1999-2000 season.
Two years later, the same job opened up at Metlakatla, and Young suggested his friend and former teammate as a suitable fit for the tough job of leading the Chiefs.
"I thought he would be a good fit there, but I told him it would be a difficult job, where he had a lot of talented players but with a lot of challenges and some high expectations from the community," said Young, who also teaches mathematics at Edgecumbe. "But Josh always worked hard and played hard on the court, and he really had a demand for discipline."
Muehlenkamp took the coaching job and one teaching social studies at Leask Middle School in Metlakatla before the 2001-02 season, and from there, both the rivalry and the friendship grew.
"It was exciting to be in Southeast where Archie was, just so that we could see each other a few times a year," Muehlenkamp said. "In my first year, I told my guys that if we were gonna win two games all season, they better be against coach Young. And if they lost those games, they'd be in the best shape of their lives, because we'd be running for the rest of the season."
"I was excited to have him in the same region, and about the opportunity to build our friendship," Young said. "The rivalry wasn't a big deal, but our friendship certainly became a lot stronger."
Muehlenkamp and the Chiefs won both games against Mount Edgecumbe in Metlakatla that season, and then made a surprise trip to the Class 3A state tournament as the Region V runner-up. Young made the trip with Muehlenkamp and sat on the bench as an assistant.
In the meantime, their families became friends, Young served as a groomsman in Muehlenkamp's wedding, and then became known as "Uncle Archie" to Muehlenkamp's son after he was born.
"Coach Young has opened a lot of doors for me, and I've built some great friendships in Southeast through him," Muehlenkamp said. "Our families stay together now, and we've had wives of coaches watch our son when we're in town, and it's all because of the friendship with Archie."
Both teams are ranked in the state's Class 3A poll - Metlakatla is No. 2 and Mount Edgecumbe is No. 5. When the teams played last month, the Chiefs won both games by three points.
"There is a little bit of a rivalry," Young said. "Right now he's up on me two games, and he won't say anything, we both know it."
"I was just glad to play Archie's kids, because they're a great team," Muehlenkamp. "Our guys needed two tough games at that point to make us a better team, and their guys took it to us."
And although they frequently share strategies and schemes over the phone during the season, Young said in-depth information about his team is confidential, especially to the coach of the Braves' toughest competition this season.
Metlakatla opens the state tournament today at 11:30 a.m. against unranked Nome-Beltz, while Mount Edgecumbe faces third-ranked Barrow at 1 p.m.
Two of the Braves' leading players - senior Matt Mercier and junior Josh Thomas - hail from Barrow and attend the state-run boarding school in Sitka. The Braves lost to the Whalers 63-49 in Barrow earlier this season.
Other teams in the tournament are top-ranked and undefeated Valdez, Heritage Christian (Anchorage), Eielson (Fairbanks) and Anchorage Christian. For complete schedules, see Monday's Juneau Empire or look on the Web at www.asaa.org.
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